Cowichan LMG and the Langley Hurricanes had never played each other prior to last Sunday’s provincial quarterfinal at Ladysmith’s Forrest Field.
But Cowichan head coach Glen Martin knew that any team that qualified for the tournament, let alone advanced to the quarterfinals, had to be a good one, and he prepared his team for that.
The Hurricanes didn’t seem to expect the same from Cowichan, and appeared to be caught off guard early on. They never managed to recover as Martin’s team got an early goal on a header by Paddy Nelson, and cruised to a 2-0 victory.
"I think we surprised them with how good we were," Martin said. "You’ve got to be on from the start."
Cowichan prevailed thanks in large part to excellent defence, something Martin wanted to concentrate on after the team’s first-round game against Abbotsford went to penalty kicks.
"We did tighten our defence up," the coach said. "We were a little more compact as a team. It was difficult for them to get through."
From the game plan to the formation, everyone on the squad was on board with what Martin wanted to accomplish.
"The boys bought in," Martin said. "They really played as a team."
The concentration on defence didn’t limit Cowichan’s scoring chances, as they bombarded the Langley net with shots, most of which went just high or wide. Craig Gorman had several opportunities before he finally buried the ball for an insurance goal late in the match. Dan Cato also had a brilliant chance, but hit Langley’s replacement keeper – who was summoned off the bench after the starter was handed a red card for tackling Nelson outside the box – square in the chest.
The Hurricanes’ frustrations were evident as they gradually turned on each other as the game went on, looking less and less composed.
"It looked like we wanted it more," Martin said. "I’m sure they wanted it too. We outplayed them, outworked them. We deserved it."
On the Cowichan backline, defender
Tyler Hughes was quietly brilliant, going into what his teammates call "pro mode" to shut down Langley forward Nick Soolsma, the former Toronto FC player who was the leading scorer in the Vancouver league this season.
The lone negative for Cowichan came toward the end of the game when speedy winger Romaie Martin was hurt in a collision with a Langley player. While his loss will be felt as Cowichan continues in the tournament, Martin knows someone will step up.
"That’s where the depth of our team comes in," he said. "The next guy has to come off the bench."
Cowichan will move on to the semifinals next weekend, when they will visit Burnaby club Estrella de Chile, yet another squad LMG has never met and Martin knows virtually nothing about.
"I’m kind of expecting more of the same thing, a highly skilled team," the coach said.
This is Cowichan’s second trip to the provincial semifinals, the first having come in 2013, when the team lost to West Vancouver FC. Martin hopes that his team can replicate the effort that led to victory last Sunday.
"If everyone works that hard for each other, we’re going to be hard to beat."